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Saturday, Nov 01, 2014

Pinellas schools weighing cost-saving measures

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LARGO - In the weeks before their July budget workshop, Pinellas County School Board members are looking for ways to save money, but not every idea has been met with optimism.

Board members were excited about a report on suggested cost-cutting measures from the Pinellas Education Foundation, which included serving fresher foods in lunch rooms and decreasing the number of portable classrooms, during their Thursday workshop. A proposal from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, though, to replace the 22 officers and two sergeants on the school district's police force with contracted deputies drew mixed opinions.

"No, thank you" School Board member Linda Lerner told Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

Gualtieri proposed a three-year contract that would put the school district's campus police department under the sheriff's office for $1.9 million a year - saving the school district about $217,000 annually. School resource officers who work for the school district would become deputies, and the price would be locked in, regardless of increasing costs for services, Gualtieri said. Officers who work for local police departments would not change employers under the proposal.

"I can't imagine outsourcing or turning over control to someone else, unless someone can tell me how it would be better," said School Board member Terry Krassner.

Gualtieri said the contract would have been better for both the schools and the community as a whole. The school district would still maintain control of the officers, and no current school resource officers would lose their jobs. All after-hours activities, such as monitoring school dances or athletics events, would be taken care of, and the sheriff's office would benefit by having quick access to the issues that crop up in schools, some of which could easily turn into community or gang crime. Right now, there is not enough communication between campus police and the sheriff's office, he said.

"You'd get more bang for your buck," Gualtieri said."

Rick Stelljes, the acting police chief of campus police, disagreed, saying school district police officers work well with the sheriff's office and local police departments.

"It comes down to what we bring to the schools, and our SRO's are trained to work specifically with these students and are probably some of the best-trained police officers that you've got anywhere," Stelljes said.

Some School Board members and district officials were interested in pursuing the idea, but Gualtieri's proposal won't be considered anytime soon.

School Board members will discuss other money-saving ideas at their next meeting, on July 16.

adawson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-9851

New principals

The School Board named three new principals Thursday:

* Sandra Kemp, former assistant principal at Pinellas Park Elementary School, moves to Plumb Elementary

* Carmela Haley moves from assistant principal to principal at East Lake High

* Thomas Brittain, former assistant principal at Dunedin High, moves to Seminole High

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